Best way to hook up 1/4 jack to computer
May 6, 2008 9:40 PM   Subscribe

I'm trying to get better sound quality out of music recordings, I've been using one of those adapters that turn a 1/4 into 1/8 but it's gets really fuzzy sometimes. I'm looking for a better way to hook up instruments to the computer, I've looked at mixer boxes but they have all these onboard equalizer's that I'm not really interested in, I just want a decent transfer quality and not all the bells and whistles. I guess my question is I'm looking for something cheap that will let me hook up something with a 1/4 jack to my computer, and also having a mic input would be a bonus.
posted by BrnP84 to Computers & Internet (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I'm a big fan of the Mbox by Digidesign. The Mbox2 mini has 1/4 inch in and XLR in with phantom.


There are other models, the regular Mbox2, the Mbox2 Pro. See what you want/need.
posted by knowles at 9:50 PM on May 6, 2008

Actually, you want to be careful with attaching instruments directly to a computer. There's more to a cable than just its size and whether the jack fits -- there's all of the electrical properties. Typically, this is characterized by what's called the "impedence," which is just a fancy term for the resistance going in. If you attach a guitar to a computer's line-in, for example, you risk damaging the guitar's electronics (namely, the pickup and filters) because it's expecting a different electrical impedence than what the computer's sound card has.

Your best bet is something like the TonePort, which is fairly reasonable price-wise. There's the added bonus of the on-board pre-amp, which means higher quality sound (versus introducing gain in software or later on down the analog chain). If you really want to save money, try something like the Behringer UCA202.

If you tell us exactly what instrument you're trying to record, we can give more useful answers.

I'm assuming by pure likeliness that it's a guitar -- if that's the case, here's some reading material: 1 and 2 (pdf).
posted by spiderskull at 9:53 PM on May 6, 2008

You do want a box between the instrument and computer to match impedance, but in terms of the connectors, keep all the size adapters etc. to a minimum and buy good quality ones. It seem strange, but a cheap connector can degrade the sound.
posted by caddis at 9:59 PM on May 6, 2008

You need an audio interface. There's many of them on the market. Check out EMU, M-Audio, Behringer for reasonably cheap interfaces. The Behringer UCA202 that spiderskull links to looks cool but it has RCA inputs and outputs--not 1/4".

I've got the EMU 0404 USB. It has 1/4" inputs and outputs , a couple of XLR jacks for mics , and a bunch of digital connectors.

There's also a PCI card version which can be found on eBay for about $80.
posted by sockpup at 10:23 PM on May 6, 2008

Good advice above, especially regarding an inexpensive USB interface.

If you're trying to record guitar, here's a little advice I doled out a while ago.

If you're dead set on plugging it straight in, you're going to have to get an active DI box. They're not too expensive.

This is because electric guitars and basses produce very, very weak audio signals, and they need to be amplified cleanly, otherwise they'll distort and sound horrible.

Personally, I'd always lean towards recording through a mic, whether it's directly over an acoustic guitar or stuck in front of an amp. This can then run to a pre-amp or a firewire/USB interface.

If you're playing a keyboard, the output should already be line-level, which basically means that it's amplified to a reasonable point. In that case, try playing with the relative levels of the keyboard's output and the audio input.

Hope that's not too confusing. If you want some more targeted advice, give us soem more information about your setup on here, or feel free to mefi mail me.
posted by Magnakai at 3:57 AM on May 7, 2008

I use a TonePort UX2 for this. It has amp simulation and effects and such, but you can bypass all of that if you like. I bought it thinking I wouldn't use the amp/cab/fx/mic simulation software at all. Now I use it all the time and greatly prefer it to putting a mic on a cab (perks: can record in the middle of the night, with the A/C humming, with the phone ringing, etc.). It gives you two XLR inputs for mics and a choice of either a padded (for active pickups) or normal (for passive pickups) 1/4" jack. It connects to your computer via USB2.
posted by wheat at 5:40 AM on May 7, 2008

Apogee Duet – although it's a little higher in the price range but extremely simple and excellent sound quality.
posted by fantasticninety at 5:49 AM on May 7, 2008

Firewire Solo is also a good choice (though the Apogee duet is of better quality) If later on you do decide to get into pro-tools you will be able to use this sound card for this as well.
posted by The1andonly at 6:10 AM on May 7, 2008

Watch out when selecting a DI (direct input) box. Most of them are for going from a 1/4" low impedance signal(guitars and basses) to a XLR high impedance signal(microphone). I think that all of the DIs pictured on that wiki page are targeted towards live sound and go from 1/4" to XLR.

You could decrease the level on your instrument or the level on your computer's input if the fuzz is distortion. If the noise is more like a bad connection you could try a different adapter.

A USB interface might fit the bill. Some of these have one or two 1/4" and XLR inputs. And they sometimes have simple preamplifiers to boost weak signals.

Please post some more info about what instruments, your computer (mac, windows, linux) and your budget.
posted by bdc34 at 8:32 AM on May 7, 2008

While the general jist of the answers here (you need to patch some kind of interface between your guitar and computer) is correct, some of the specifics are wrong, to wit:

If you attach a guitar to a computer's line-in, for example, you risk damaging the guitar's electronics (namely, the pickup and filters) because it's expecting a different electrical impedence than what the computer's sound card has.

I've never heard of a guitar being damage like this and I can't imagine how it would be. It is true, however, that plugging straight in will likely not sound very good due to impedance mis-matching.

Watch out when selecting a DI (direct input) box. Most of them are for going from a 1/4" low impedance signal(guitars and basses) to a XLR high impedance signal(microphone).

That is wrong. Guitar outputs need to feed a high impedance input; microphone-level XLR inputs are low impedance.

Before you go out and spend money on an interface box, try patching some kind of effect pedal or even a tuner between your guitar and computer. Something like a tube screamer will buffer your guitar and provide a low impedance output even when switched "off".
posted by timeistight at 9:25 AM on May 7, 2008

Response by poster: Wow that's a lot of info. Magnaki I think you brought up a good point by just recording through a mic, that seems prob to make the most sense in this situation, I didn't realize there were this many things to think about. I'm wanting to record mainly guitar but also voice stuff too, so I'll need a mic anyway so might as well just record the guitar through a mic. The only thing I was afraid of with this though is that there might be static sounds with live guitar recordings? That's my biggest issue now, when I use the 1/4 -1/8 adapter on my guitar to computer I get a lot of static. I'm liking that toneport ux2, prob good to plug a recording mic into?
posted by BrnP84 at 9:59 PM on May 7, 2008

Response by poster: I didn't see your answer before timeistight, I can't do that right now cause I'm a work but I've a wah pedal I could try it with. If this works than that could prob save me a lot of work and money. I still want to eventually buy a decent recording mic though, which than I'll prob need to buy some kind of interface box?
posted by BrnP84 at 10:11 PM on May 7, 2008

If you're wanting to go the mic route, you'll need a mic preamp. It performs a similar function to the DI box - boosting a very low signal to something your computer will understand. Most decent USB/firewire audio interfaces have one built in. You could also get a separate one and hook it straight into your audio input, but it's pretty likely that your soundcard isn't optimised for real-time recording.

Using a pedal to match impedance is a great idea. Any non-true bypass one will work fine. Definitely try that!

The Toneport UX2 is incredibly cheap right now on Musician's Friend, and that might be a good idea actually. It'll give you a decent mic and guitar input coupled with some quite nice amp modeling. Plus it's simple!

Then just pick up an SM57 and an XLR cable, and you're set.
posted by Magnakai at 1:27 AM on May 8, 2008

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